A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

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A tearful Hines Ward announces his retirement

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward believes he can still play football. The longtime Pittsburgh wide receiver known for his high-wattage smile and his bone-crunching blocks just couldn't stomach the thought of doing it in some strange uniform on some strange field with nary a Terrible Towel in sight. "I just wouldn't feel right," Ward said. So rather than play for a 15th season -- and his first outside the Steel City -- a tearful Ward opted to retire on Tuesday and secure a legacy unmatched in the franchise's long history. "I can say I'm a Steeler for life and that's the bottom line, that's all I've really ever wanted," Ward said. Ward holds every significant franchise receiving record, including receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 1,000 career catches rank eighth all time and he is one of two players with at least 1,000 receptions and two Super Bowl rings. The decision comes three weeks after the 36-year-old was released by the Steelers in a salary cap maneuver. Ward says he was contacted by several clubs but never had any formal discussions. He insists there are no hard feelings for his release, understanding that football is a business. As if to prove the point, Ward embraced Steelers owner Art Rooney II after stepping away from the podium following the announcement. "Thank you (Mr. Rooney) for giving a small town boy from Forest Park, Ga., a chance," Ward said. The former third-round pick out of Georgia was due to make 4 million next season, an expensive option for a player whose role diminished significantly in 2011 when he finished with 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie season in 1998. He embraced his role as mentor to Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown even though he knew they were chewing into his playing time. "I know the wideouts are going to be in great hands," he said. "They're full of talent." And they're part of an offense that didn't exist when Ward made his debut 14 years ago. He spent most of his first three seasons blocking for running back Jerome Bettis, something he did better than any receiver in the league. Over time, the Steelers evolved from the grind-it-out attack that has been the club's identity for decades. Ward's breakout season came in 2001 when he set a franchise record with 94 receptions then obliterated that mark in 2002 when he finished with 112 catches. He made four straight Pro Bowls from 2001-2004 and seemed to get better as he aged. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Super Bowl after catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over Seattle, the franchise's first championship in 26 years. The Steelers added a second title in 2009 to give them six, more than any other team in the league. Ward hoped to get the Steelers their seventh Lombardi Trophy but didn't catch a pass in a 29-23 overtime loss to Denver in the wild card round of last year's playoffs. Only one pass came his way, a dart down the sideline by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh's final drive in regulation. Denver cornerback Champ Bailey swatted the ball to the ground and Ward walked off the field and into the unknown. The former "Dancing With the Stars" champion could have a lucrative postseason career in front of a camera -- he worked the red carpet during the Oscars -- but he maintained after his release he could still contribute. He still does. "I feel like I have a few more good years in me left, Ward said. "I would love nothing more to get back to the Super Bowl." He wasn't willing to do it, however, outside Pittsburgh. "I want to go down as one of the greats to wear the black-and-gold and that's how it should end," Ward said. Ward laughed when asked if he could go into coaching one day, taking a jab at coach Mike Tomlin, who isn't sure how Ward's passion would play in the locker room. One of the most respected players in the league because of his contributions on and off the field, Ward leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. "On behalf of the NFL players, I want congratulate Hines on an extraordinary career," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "I know he will continue to be a leader and example to our men." Ward's already started by urging Wallace to do what he can to remain with the Steelers. "I told Mike you may get a chance to go other places but there's not another place like Pittsburgh," Ward said. Certainly not for Ward. His No. 86 jersey has long been one of the team's top sellers, and his blue-collar attitude rang true to a fan base where hard work is a way of life. Ward understands the unique relationship the Steelers have with the city and to tarnish it by making a last-gasp attempt to pad his career stats didn't interest him. "I want my legacy here to say, you know what he was one hell of a football player who gave it his all," Ward said. "I'm truly blessed. I played in three Super Bowls, won two Super Bowls, was Super Bowl MVP ... what more could a player want out of his entire football career?"

Bill King earns induction into Baseball Hall of Fame

Bill King earns induction into Baseball Hall of Fame

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Legendary A’s radio announcer Bill King was selected as the 2017 Ford C. Frick award winner, earning him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The announcement came Wednesday morning at the winter meetings, and surely the news will be greeted enthusastically by legions of fans who identify King’s voice with so many of the Bay Area’s unforgettable sports moments.

King, who passed away in 2005, won the award in his sixth time as a finalist. Current A’s play-by-play man Ken Korach, who called games alongside King and wrote a book about his career and colorful personality, lobbied hard for his induction, even reaching out individually to Frick voters before this year’s election. Contacted Wednesday, Korach's voice cracked with emotion as he searched for words to describe his feelings.

“Honestly, I’m in tears. I really am,” Korach said. “It’s incredible. I’m just overwhelmed with joy, for his family, for his fans. What Bill meant to A’s fans and fans of the Bay Area in general is the reason that he’s in.”

King was passed over numerous times in previous Frick elections, with the assumed thought being that King’s terrific versatility behind the mic actually worked against him.

Because he was so well-known and identified with as a Raiders and Warriors announcer as well as A’s, some never viewed King as a pure baseball man. But baseball was nearest to King’s heart according to Korach, who plans to travel to Cooperstown with his wife Denise for King’s induction July 29.

“It was his first love, the game he enjoyed broadcasting the most.”

King’s call of the Raiders’ zany “Holy Roller” victory over the Chargers in 1978 is a staple of vintage NFL Films footage. He described the scene for Warriors fans as the team won its first NBA title in the Bay Area in 1975. And his trademark “Holy Toledo!” marked so many A’s victories over the years.

The other seven finalists for the Frick award were Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, Gary Cohen, Jacques Doucet, Ken Harrelson, Pat Hughes, Ned Martin and Dewayne Staats.

“Bill King’s enthusiasm for every game he called carried through the airwaves and into the hearts of fans throughout Northern California for 25 incredible years with the Oakland Athletics,” said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idleson. “From his distinctive word choices in describing the action to his unabashed love of Oakland and the Bay Area, King crafted a career that became synonymous with the action at the Oakland Coliseum and throughout the sports world.”
 

Mack, Irvin feed off each other, form dynamic duo in Raiders pass rush

Mack, Irvin feed off each other, form dynamic duo in Raiders pass rush

The Buffalo Bills were running right through the Oakland Raiders early in Sunday’s contest, a never-ending assault that took its toll on defenders in silver and black.

That was the case for the most optimistic, steadfast member of that unit.

“We were giving up big plays, and I was frustrated,” star edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “Actually, I was pissed off.”

Bruce Irvin sensed a disturbance in the force. The veteran pass rusher knew how to fix it.  A little pep talk would get Mack going again.

“We feed off each other’s energy. … That dude pulls me up. I was feeling a little down towards the middle of the game, and he was like, ‘Come on. We need you. Come on. Let’s go. He pulled me up and kept pushing.”

That wasn’t the turning point in yet another comeback win. It wasn’t the only reason why defense locked Buffalo down during a run of 29 unanswered points.

It showed how strong a friendship Mack and Irvin have formed since the spring, one that helps get the best out of the other. Bonds formed from insatiable work ethic, one evident even in the offseason program.

“We’re both so hungry to be great that it just brought us together,” Irvin said. “When I got here, we talked right away. Khalil and (quarterback Derek Carr) were the first two guys I sat down with, and I told them I was coming over to play with Khalil, to help turn this thing around and become one of the top units in the league. Khalil and I just bonded quickly, and it was like we had been friends forever. It’s like whole thing was meant to be.”

It has turned out to be a productive pairing. There are 15 sacks, 94 other quarterback pressures and eight forced fumbles between Irvin and Mack this season.

Mack has the bulk of those numbers, especially during a second-half run where he has been outright dominant and jumped into the conversation for defensive player of the year. Mack has been involved in four turnovers the last two games, including game-sealing strip sacks while recovering his own fumble in consecutive weeks.

“You all don’t want to talk to Robin,” Irvin quipped. “Batman’s right over there.”

Irvin has used that line after two home victories in a row. The fifth-year pro is more than Mack’s sidekick. He’s on a roll himself, with sacks in three straight games. He uses speed and agility to create pressure off the strongside edge, dealing with left tackles on a consistent basis.

“I’m in a good groove right now,” Irvin said. “Mentality, physically, I’m in a very good place right now. It’s really showing on the field these past couple weeks.”

Irvin has been a productive defender either making plays on his side or driving traffic back towards Mack. It works both ways, with Mack drawing significant attention that often leaves Irvin in more favorable matchups.

The combination has been impactful, especially on a defense that doesn’t’ get pressure from other sources. They’ve been productive in the clutch as well, with six sacks coming in the fourth quarter. Mack has big plays the last two weeks, and Irvin has a big sack late in a victory over Houston in Mexico City.

The Raiders defense is improving, and having Irvin rushing strong recently helps Mack and the entire Raiders defense.

“He’s always been in a good groove, but there are things going well for this defense,” Mack said. “I’m on the other side, and you have coverage going well. (Opponents) try to do all the chipping and those things that play a factor in doing what we do. The fact that he’s rolling right now is not a surprise.”